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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation about the future of the catholic church in america with theologian and scholar dr. gina messina-dysert, who will explore the challenges facing the church and a lot of the continuing outreach over the handling of sexual abuse of minors by some members of the clergy. in light of all of this, can the church maintain its moral leadership? we are glad you could join us. the future of catholicism in america, coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can
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stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> with a new pope about to be chosen in rome and the church under severe criticism for its handling of sexual-abuse cases, what is the path forward for the more than 77 million american catholics? a professor of theological ethics at loyola marymount university, raised catholic, dr. gina messina-dysert. deeply engaged in the ongoing
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debate about the future of catholicism in america. professor, good to have you on this program. >> thank you so much. tavis: let me start with the obvious. many of us, even those of us who are not catholic, this has not happened in 600 years, so it has not happened in our lifetimes, that we have had an ex-pope. >> certainly, this is a significant historical event. this is the first pope to step down in 600 years and one of only 10 in the entire history of the catholic church. people are really curious what this means. will it is ring be smashed. will he continue to be in fallible. catholics are figuring this out as they go along. i think the most recent reports are that they are going to smash his ring and that the pope will
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no longer be in fallible once he steps down on february 28. i think the vatican itself is really trying to figure this out because this really is unprecedented. tavis: so for the catholic church, he is like the voice of god, but he is still living, and i am not trying to be funny, i am trying to figure out how this works. >> yes. my understanding is that the pope will no longer be inviolable. he will no longer be making statements for the church, so whoever the elected pope is, that will be the only one speaking for the church. tavis: i want to phrase this in the right way. i do not in any way want to be disrespectful to the pope. do you buy his reasons for stepping down? do you buy the reasons for his stepping down? as you know, there have been all kinds of articles, people digging into this to figure out
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why he would do this at this time, as it is so on president. and nobody saw this coming. we know the turmoil the church has been going through. i am curious about the timing and the rationale. >> of course, of course. as you said, people are stunned. this is a big surprise. it has not happened again in 600 years, so there are a lot of questions about timing. he made this announcement two days before ash wednesday, before easter, which led people to speculate, why would you be stepping down at the holiest time of year? why would you not wait until after easter? and they continue to have these questions. i think it is interesting. i do not think he is stepping down because of health reasons, and i do not think that is what is statement was saying. whether or not there are other issues that will come up later, i guess that will tell the story, but there are many
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reports coming out. some are saying that this decision was made last year, that there are other things that went into this decision, but people have questions. as i said, i think time will tell the story. i think maybe that, yes, he decided it is a good decision to acknowledge that some one, you know, who is feeling frail is not able to lead the vatican, and in that case, it means he is making a great decision for catholicism because he is bringing the church forward into the 21st century acknowledging we need strong leadership, and this might be a way to do that. tavis: that notion of bringing the church into the 21st century can be deconstructs and i guess 18 million different ways, so let me come at it from this perspective. there are a number of reports as of late, where young people are being asked, young catholics are being asked, about the future of
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their church and whether or not their church is ready to move into the 21st century. when you hear that phrase, what do you hear? the question, it is the church ready to move into the 21st century? what do you hear when you hear that? >> andreessen survey showed that 70% of american catholics are not influenced by vatican teaching, and this goes directly to the point that the vatican is really out of touch, right? american catholics, 90% of american catholics believe in the use of contraception. 60% want women in the ordination, and almost half want gay marriage. part of what progressives are calling for is a church that is expanding and growing with the
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times, so the hope is with the new leadership that perhaps this is something we are going to see, at least moving towards these kinds of things. tavis: let me pick apart what you just said, and i want to move aside the notion of catholicism, and we can come back to that. the framing of this issue could be applied to any particular religion or faith, and that is this notion of a church that is growing, to your phrase, with the times. let's put that into two parts. a church that is growing, i totally get. nobody wants to be part of a church that is regressing, losing members, that is not expanding and going into different parts of the world, so i get that part. i guess what i did troubled by is this notion of a church changing with the times. if you are catholic, pentecostal, whatever you might be, you might be buddhist, how does a church have a responsibility to change with
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the times? if this is what you believe, and if these are the tenants of the gospel, and i use that word with the small "g," then why does the church even feel pressured to change with the times? i do not want to be in a church, quite frankly, that is changing with the times. i went to be in a church that stands for what it believes and believes what it stands for and does not change with the whims of the membership, so why would the catholic church above the other institutions that i see, at least, find itself in this conversation about whether or not it is ready to change with the times? does that make sense? >> that is a very important question, and i think when you are talking about the gospel, and you are talking about the teachings of jesus, which is the foundation of the catholic church, we are talking about a message that focuses on liberation, and you have to look at that message. who are being marginalized?
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who is being oppressed? that is really what the mission of the church is, and so we need to examine that mission against what is happening in the world today. that is what i think that means. tavis: so that means, in theory, the kind of pope that progressive catholics would want would look like what? give me a profile of the kind of pope that progressive catholics would want to see. >> well, if i am being honest, progressive catholics would want to see a woman. we know that is not going to happen anytime soon, right? but we want to see a pope that recognizes what it means to adhere to that mission, working to liberate those at the margins of society. that needs to be the focus of the church. tavis: how does the catholic church to do that beyond very progressive programs, like catholic charities, and i
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understand very clearly, before you enter, that there is a difference between justice and charity, very clearly, but a church that should be working for the liberation of the disenfranchised, means what? what does that look like? >> if we look at how the catholic church is structured, we see a church that is certainly sexist, right? it excludes women from leadership roles. there are huge issues there. and if you're looking at liberation and this message of jesus, jesus did not exclude anyone from the mission, nor did he exclude anyone from being ordained. in its structure, the vatican is operating in an oppressive way. working to move away from that, first of all, i think is really key. and that is just with issues related to women. we certainly can see in various ways the vatican structure is oppressive, and in addition to that, i think right now, the reason we see such a mass exodus
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happening in the church is because people see a structure, a vatican, a church that is focused on protecting its image, right, rather than serving the needs of the people, so this is the problem that we see here, and i think what progressive catholics, and catholics in general, frankly, is how they want to see the church change. tavis: to your point that there is an exodus, certainly an exodus from the catholic church, but since you are a student and teacher of this, where the church is growing fastest happens to be in places where people of color populate, and we are talking africa. we are talking south america. you know the various places where the church is growing. what do you make of the fact that the church is growing fastest in areas where people of color populate, and i certainly tend to think people of color in my work so often as those that are at the margins, those that
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are disenfranchised socially, economically, culturally, and yet, they are the fastest- growing membership of the church. how do you juxtapose that? >> this is a good question. i think about catholic social teaching, and, again, this message of jesus. as the tradition is being spread, and people are learning about this mission and how they apply that to their own lives, this idea of jesus as someone who was suppressed an experienced oppression, i think this type of religion can be very freeing for a person, so i think that to the extent it is growing, absolutely. tavis: does that mean that there is any chance whatsoever that someone, say, out of ghana might have a shot at being pope? >> absolutely. tavis: you think so? >> i think so.
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a great candidate to be the next pope, i am excited about him to be the next pope because he does represent an area where we have one of the fastest- growing populations of catholics, and in addition to that, his role as president of the council for peace and justice i think gives him a different kind of perspective and a perspective that people want to see in the church. tavis: what would happen if the pope turned black, and there was a mass exodus of the church as a result of that? how would catholics even spin that? what with the public response date to an exodus from the church because of a certain person being elected? >> well, i do not think there would be because of that. again, going back to ideas about the basic foundation of catholicism, and i think that people do choose the tradition,
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then those people would need a serious lesson in what it means to be a catholic and what the mission of jesus was. tavis: more broadly, what are the possibilities that someone outside of europe might be selected? talking about american catholicism, what are the chances in our lifetime that we would see a pope of the u.s. of a.? >> there have been some reports about timothy dolan, and he also said, i do not know if you saw this in the last couple of days about being elected pope, he said they are smoking dope. tavis: the cardinals said that? i like the cardinal. >> yes, he certainly does not see that happening, but at some point, it is possible that we could see an american pope. we could see a canadian pulp, it sure.
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these are people on the shortlist right now. that said, it is really going to depend on who these cardinals elect, and 67 of these cardinals were appointed by benedict xvi, and the others were appointed by john paul 7. it will be about who they want to see in that position. they will crumbly be very similar to the ideas. tavis: this is a very big issue, but because this program is viewed nationally and internationally, for that matter, and because the pope is an international icon, this local story has become a national story because of the implications. i had no idea that cardinal mahony, who was in charge of the l.a. archdioceses, that cardinal, who is no longer in that position, but apparently
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still retains a vote for the next pope, so, ok. i get the part that once a cardinal, you still get a chance to vote for the next pope. i get back. what was stunning to me is that he gets to retain that vote when he is under a cloud of suspicion for payoffs and other stuff, allegedly, when he was in charge of the archdiocese's around the sex scandal issue, and stuff is coming out more and more every day about what he knew and what he did and what they try to hide, etc., etc., and with all respect to that cardinal, he gets to go and cast a vote? that is stunning to me. >> you are certainly not alone, and many feel that he should not be allowed to participate in this event. with the recent events here in los angeles, and we see how documents continue to demonstrate how he was so complicit in the cover-up of the sex abuse scandal locally in los
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angeles, and he has been relieved of his duties, right, i personally find it incredibly problematic that he would be able to participate in this election. it is disturbing. bottom line, it is disturbing. tavis: you are still a practicing catholic. >> i am. >> -- tavis: why? >> first of all, i was raised catholic as part of my identity, for sure, but i also feel that when you see something that needs to change, you cannot make that change from the outside. seeing the change that needs to happen in the catholic church, to remain part of that structure for change, and i see that as part of my own mission. tavis: do you think there are enough voices like yours in this country and around the globe to actually see some of those progressive changes the route? >> i think there are.
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i think there definitely are. you know, the way the structure is set up, and certainly this is an interesting time, the new inquisitions era in the catholic church. people know that if you speak out, you are going to be limiting your job opportunities, right? you could lose your job. you could be refused appointments, or you could be excommunicated from the church. these are very real threats, and this is the way the vatican has sought to keep this movement from growing, but they have not been successful. people are retaining their power. they have not allowed the structure themselves to have power over them. what does it mean to stand up? what does it mean to stand in solidarity? how do we work to make these changes? and that is happening. tavis: what would you say -- i am really curious about this -- again, here is that word again, what has been the most
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progressive change in the catholic church in your lifetime, to your mind? i am trying to get a sense. you believe that change is possible, and i am trying to ask now the backstory of that, which is what evidence do you place on the table that makes that possible? what is part of what u.s. celebrated or see in your life? >> this is a great question. to date, in my lifetime, this is a great question, and i honestly do not know how to answer that. tavis: let me stop and say i appreciate that. do you know how many times i asked that question, and people try to fudge their way through? it is ok to say "i do not know." that was a personal moment. forgive me for that. >> that is great. that is a great question, and i do not know what the most progressive moment would be so far. there are many moments and some
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that are disappointing and hard to deal with. tavis: that is why i ask that. the hope eternal that the church that you love so much and are remaining inside of will ever be more progressive, change, catch up to the times. >> i guess it is because i know what the foundation of the church is, and i believe it can be what the foundation is, and i am surrounded by other people, and i believe in numbers. if we keep working towards this, we can see change, and i just want to point out that i think the resignation of this pope -- so let me say this. the resignation of this pope perhaps is the most progressive thing i have seen in my lifetime, because with his resignation, he is acknowledging that tradition can change, so if the pope can resign, then women
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can be ordained, then we can use contraception, and people can participate in same-sex relationships in a loving way. that i think might be the most progressive thing i have seen, the acknowledgement that people can change. tavis: you have work your way into a very provocative answer. i accept it. the issues you have listed, and by my count, you have listed four or five that are on the progressive agenda, and i am sure there are more. i am curious, and i want to track this years from now, and you'll come back on the show years from now, and we will see how you did. with the issues that may be on your list, where do you see the most likely chair for a breakthrough? i am asking what specific issue do you see the greatest chance for a breakthrough with the catholic church leadership is
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concerned. whether it be women or contraception. you tell me. i tried to figure out which issue on the agenda has the best chance for you to open all and have a chance. >> well, i think peter is a candidate for pope. this is not at the top of my list, but i think it is a really good chance about the idea of celibacy for priests, so that priests can marry. that is something that a lot of people talk about being part of the agenda. that is something that we may look to happen sooner than some of these other issues. i think women's ordination, i would love to say that i see that coming soon. i do not see it in my lifetime. tavis: i saw on one of the networks, they were talking to young people, and the
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interviewer said to a group of persons they were talking to, as a follow-up, how many of you would feel safe leaving your child with a priest, and, as you might imagine, there was significant dis-ease with the notion of leaving a child with a priest. can the church get past this scandal? >> listen. i think the church needs to take its own advice, and it needs to ask for forgiveness. it is time for the church to acknowledge its sins and repent. until it does that and lays all of the cards out on the table and says, "yes, and we are sorry, and let's start working with the healing of those that have been abused, until that happens, i do not see them moving forward. tavis: if you were making an
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appeal to priests, if you were making that appeal, what would you say to persons considering going into the priesthood as the best reason to do that? i am asking that because we know over the years, the number of people going into the priesthood has diminished, as well, so you cannot have a church without people leaving the church. in this country, we are going to need more people, you are going to be more people going into the tradition, into the faith to lead. what is your best advice to someone going into the priesthood? >> someone going into the priesthood, it would be so for advancing this mission of jesus. the foundational messages of the gospel and what it means to be engaged in catholic social teaching and being able to focus on people in a positive way and
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not get caught up in image issues of the catholic church, which really has been the downfall up until this point. tavis: i appreciate your candor and your instincts. she is a professor here in california, lmu, and i am happy to have you on. >> my pleasure. tavis: that is our show for tonight. we will see you next time, and until then, as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with a legendary blues artist, taj mahal, with the complete collection of his work. that is next time, and we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger,
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and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. be
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